Northwest Digest

Wire reports

Posted: Monday, February 06, 2006

Budget changes boost missile project

FAIRBANKS - Recent defense budget changes will allow the Missile Defense Agency to catch up on earlier plans to install more ballistic missile interceptors at Fort Greely in Alaska, according to the agency's director.

Congress shifted $150 million to the agency's budget for ground-based interceptors and away from other proposed agency programs, Air Force Lt. Gen. Henry "Trey" Obering told the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner last week.

A detailed 2007 budget proposal for the agency from President Bush is scheduled for release Monday.

The congressional direction came as the MDA fell short of its plans to add up to 10 ground-based interceptors in 2005 at Fort Greely, 100 miles southeast of Fairbanks.

Two interceptors were added to the six already in the ground.

Obering said he decided to cut back new installations at Fort Greely last year so the missile defense program would have enough interceptors to use in tests.

A review panel convened after the failure of two recently staged intercepts had recommended more rigorous testing with missiles that duplicate those in launch silos, he said.

"So I diverted interceptors from our silo emplacement into our test program," Obering said. "What the $150 million does is helps us get back some of those interceptors we diverted into our test program and catch us back up on the emplacement schedule we were originally on."

Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, first added $200 million for more interceptors and testing in the Senate version of the fiscal 2006 defense spending bill last fall.

Study finds warming in Kenai streams

KENAI - Salmon stream temperatures on the lower Kenai Peninsula have increased steadily over the past six years to levels considered unhealthy for the state's most popular sport and commercial fish, a study has found.

The report found a jump each year in the number of days during which water temperatures exceeded limits considered healthy for salmon.

State standards say water at 55 degrees F is considered unhealthy for spawning areas. Measurements taken last year at a dozen locations found water temperatures above that mark more than 80 days for each of the streams. The Anchor River crossed the mark on 88 days, the report said.

The water last summer was not quite as warm as the June-July peak of 2004. But 2005 tallied the most days exceeding state water temperature standards because researchers started counting earlier.

Warm water can damage salmon egg and fry incubation, resistance to disease, and the availability of oxygen and nutrients. It can also slow travel by migrating adult salmon.

The study was funded by a state grant to the environmental group Cook Inlet Keeper and the Homer Soil and Water Conservation District.

The study provides the first biological evidence of habitat degradation in the popular fishing streams, said Sue Mauger, a stream ecologist with Cook Inlet Keeper.

Fish and Game biologists say Kenai Peninsula salmon runs are still healthy, but are watching local temperature gauges with some concern.

Poorest to get drug co-pay aid

SEATTLE - The state of Washington will get a $14 million Medicare credit from the federal government because the cost of prescription drugs has dropped, Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt announced during a weekend visit to the state.

After Leavitt met with Gov. Chris Gregoire, she announced that the state would allocated the $14 million to cover the co-pays for the state's poorest residents in the new Medicare prescription-drug plan.

Under the new Medicare Part D that began Jan. 1, Medicare beneficiaries - the elderly and the disabled - may enroll in private plans that will pay part of the cost of their prescription drugs with government subsidies.

In Washington, about 96,000 Medicare people whose prescriptions were previously paid in full by Medicaid now face co-payments from $1 to $5 per prescription refill for the first time. Many of these people say they are being denied coverage or are being overcharged when there is confusion over eligibility.

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